The Magic of Mushrooms
Autumn is here. The leaves are turning red and gold. The air is humid and there is a familiar smell in the air. Mushrooms! I follow it like a bloodhound, spending wonderful hours with my basket and and knife wandering in the fields looking for those delightful beauties.
A selection of parasols, field mushrooms, puff balls
and a very lucky find of chanterelles
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I very rarely find ceps; I don’t even try hard, although I know full well that they are the biggest prize for the locals. But,for me, the humble field mushroom, the parasol or coulemelle as it is known in France, the honey fungus or the puff balls, give me the greatest joy.
I’m not gung ho about it all and very rarely take risks. I know all the common edible and inedible varieties, but some specimens appear which I have never seen before, and they seduce me into popping them intomy basket for future reference.
I pore over the excellent book recommended by the mushroom course tutor, and there have been times when I have been so sure that they are safe that I have dared to serve them up for my husband and myself... with his knowledge, of course. And I may add that they have been delicious. I must admit to prodding him in the morning as soon as I have woken up just to check that all is well though.
It’s the thrill of the hunt, the knowledge that not many others would even consider taking such a path, and the finding them in obscure places and at odd moments. For several weeks of the
year I am consumed by them, even when dressed in my finery.
One lovely day, on the way home from a smart event, all dressed up in my high heels and short skirt, I saw a vision of delight. There they were, armies of sunny, golden mushrooms. I parked the car and scrambled up a muddy bank and came down with a carrier bag... my motto is always be prepared with a plastic bag or basket in the season... full of the most gorgeous, richly perfumed honey fungus, (Latin name armillaria... very apt in this case ). It wasn’t until some passers by slowed down and gave me a peculiar look that I even gave a thought to the impression I was giving. Good job it wasn’t the paparazzi!
Honey fungi grow around the base of trees and their roots. For trees, it is a death knell, and the original Bramley apple tree, planted almost 200 years ago, is dying because of this infestation which causes the water-carrying capillaries in the tree to become congested, and there is nothing to be done to save it. They do taste delicious, however, and I do succeed in overcoming the guilt when I eat them.
I wouldn’t advise anyone to go on a fungus forage, however, without prior knowledge of what they are handling, as some of the most beautiful specimens are the most deadly, the Destroying Angel being one of them, a gorgeous pure white fungus which has 'eat me' written all over it, but to do so is almost certain death. It so resembles the common rose or field mushroom, the only difference being the white gills underneath rather than the pink or brown of the edible variety.
The brightly coloured red and white spotted Alice in Wonderland fly agaric is another one to
be avoided. Look but don’t touch. I carefully clean my harvest by trimming and brushing, trying to avoid using water which would be quickly absorbed and render the flesh very soggy when cooked. Then I either cook them on a high heat in a mixture of butter and olive oil, garlic and seasoning and eat them immediately on toast or with crispy bread, or dry them in my dehydrator and seal them in plastic bags. They last for several months in this state if stored in a dry place. They also freeze very well when cooked as described.
Here are a couple of recipes you may like to try, Mushroom Strogonoff and Mixed Mushroom Bulgar. You can always use cultivated mushrooms if the fungus bug doesn't float your boat.
© 2017 Sylvia Teale